UAS Closes Bookstore, Prepares For Tight Budget Times

The UAS Bookstore sold a lot more than just books. (Photo courtesy MRV Architects)
The UAS Bookstore sold a lot more than just books. (Photo courtesy MRV Architects)

The University of Alaska Southeast closed its bookstore in Juneau at the end of last year, because it hadn’t been profitable for years. As the school looks ahead, UAS will need to make more tough decisions about its budget.

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Students at the UAS Sitka and Ketchikan campuses have long ordered textbooks through the school’s official Online Bookstore or another website. Now students in Juneau will have to do the same.

Callie Conerton is UAS student government president. She says the closure of the bookstore isn’t affecting how she buys textbooks. Conerton is in her fourth year at UAS, studying elementary education. She tends to order books online anyway.

“If I can get a book that is the older edition that still has 95 percent of the information and is $100 cheaper, I’m going to take that route,” says Conerton.

She says some students are upset by the closure, especially ones that sign up for or change classes right before the semester starts. They don’t have the convenience of buying textbooks at the bookstore but instead have to wait for them to arrive in the mail.

“So it is a little bit hard. Shipping to Alaska, of course, from down south is extremely hard, but it’s an adjustment period. It’s a transition,” Conerton says.

The bookstore has been on or near the Juneau campus since the early 1980s. In more recent years, it doubled as a gift shop and sold a lot more than just books. It had school and art supplies, dorm decorations and work by local artists. It was also the place to buy UAS sweatshirts and gear.

But UAS vice chancellor for administration Michael Ciri says it was simply not financially stable.

“The bookstore had not been profitable for quite a few years and it was increasingly unprofitable and all of the projections show that it was going to be between $50,000 and $150,000 deficit ongoing into the future,” Ciri says.

Starting in the fall of 2013 the university went through a lengthy process to review bookstore operations. In May, officials made the final decision to close it. Ciri says the bookstore’s budget was around $770,000.

UAS gear can now be purchased at a new convenience store in the Mourant Building, and soon at the recreation center. School supplies will be offered in vending machines on campus.

The almost 4,000 sq. foot bookstore was located in the same building as the school’s administrative services and human resources departments. In the near future, Ciri says the space will likely be used as temporary office space for staff while the Hendrickson building is renovated. Otherwise, he says UAS is actively looking at selling the building.

“Not quite certain what the solution will be for all of the business functions that are in that building yet,” Ciri says, “but if we can find a way to use space more efficiently on campus and be able to accommodate them there then we would have one less building to be maintaining, which in tight budget times would be advantageous.”

And Ciri says UAS needs to start planning for even tighter times. During the school’s Christmas break, Gov. Bill Walker asked all state agencies to look at the potential effects of a 5 percent and 8 percent budget cut. Ciri says that translates into either a $3.4 million or $4.3 million reduction, or between 30 and 50 staff members.

“That’s the equivalent of the general funding we receive for a third of all of our academic program, and so you can’t do that without significantly reducing staff. Ideally you wouldn’t do it all through staff reduction. You’d find some other strategies to do it, like selling a building,” Ciri says.

UAS is starting to look at budget cutting measures, he says, like a hiring freeze and identifying how departments can save money this fiscal year.

Full disclosure: Callie Conerton is the daughter of KTOO’s Jeff Brown.